x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sir Alex Ferguson and Steven Gerrard unite in peace talks

As the clubs that were embroiled in race rows meet again, the FA Cup games are hopefully remembered for football.

John Terry and his Chelsea teammates prepared for the FA Cup match against QPR at the Real Mallorca training facilitiesin Spain.
John Terry and his Chelsea teammates prepared for the FA Cup match against QPR at the Real Mallorca training facilitiesin Spain.

It was the draw the police, the England Football Association and the respective clubs dreaded.

Queens Park Rangers against Chelsea plus Liverpool versus Manchester United equates to overtime and extra staffing, plenty of letters and public calls for calm. It also makes for potentially incendiary atmospheres and for already delicate situations to become a football nightmare.

In a season of comebacks, there has been an unwanted and unwelcome return: the spectre of racism is back.

Today's FA Cup ties are re-runs of league games that brought serious accusations, one leading to a landmark suspension, the other a criminal case.

When United last visited Merseyside, Patrice Evra was the target of racist remarks by Luis Suarez. Liverpool's Uruguayan striker is absent, serving the penultimate game of his eight-match ban after an FA disciplinary panel deemed him guilty of racial abuse, but the defender will start at Anfield.

Meanwhile, in west London, Anton Ferdinand and John Terry meet for the first time since QPR's October derby win.

The Chelsea and England captain was accused of racially abusing the Rangers player; after a complaint from a member of the public, Terry was charged by the police with a public order offence.

The case comes to court on Wednesday, when he is expected to plead not guilty.

Before the trial comes another test. It is one that Terry, who has long persuaded himself that he is an indestructible leader of men, may relish.

He is accustomed to life in the eye of the storm, even if his performances have been decidedly mixed when the spotlight is focused firmly on him.

But the blameless Ferdinand's form suffered in the aftermath of the original incident.

With both managers confirming they will pick the defenders, even the pre-match handshake will be scrutinised. So will the stands: the capital clubs issued a joint statement, urging fans to report anyone guilty of "discriminatory and inflammatory language".

It is especially pertinent after one Chelsea fan was arrested for, and others accused of, alleged racial chanting last week. In the last three months, Ferdinand has been the subject of some distasteful choruses.

Liverpool and United's meetings can be vitriolic enough even without the current backdrop. Sir Alex Ferguson has written to the travelling Mancunians calling for "positive, loud and witty support", something even the usually bubbly Evra may require.

The Scot struck a rare note of harmony between the two clubs by endorsing Steven Gerrard's approach.

"We all have a responsibility to ensure that this game is remembered for the football," the Liverpool captain said. "We don't want any front-page stories from the game."

The last FA Cup tie at Anfield sadly brought one, with the Oldham defender Tom Adeyemi was reportedly racially abused.

According to Ian Ayre, the Liverpool managing director, the theme of the day should be: "Rivalry, not hatred."

Yet after signs that events on the pitch have encouraged the extreme elements of the support, it may be a vain hope.

And whatever the score today, one thing is for sure: plenty in positions of authority will be hoping that this draw does not lead to another draw.

And the worst-case scenario: a replay.

sports@thenational.ae